Oh, see, I thought Iowa and Vermont meant the times they were a-changin’ … Update

Update, courtesy of Jezebel. The plot thickens.


I should give up trying to assign logic to things. I need to accept that there are a lot of things that just can’t be explained logically.

Today’s case in point: Amazon’s decision to strip the sales rankings from a host of books with LGBT characters or themes. Stripping the ranking means these titles are less likely to show up in search results on the site. Amazon claims this stripping is necessary because these titles are ‘adult’ … meanwhile, plenty of truly adult material with herterosexual themes and characters continues to show up in searches. Go figure.

My sister, Fox, brought this to my attention, and it pissed me off.  I wanted to believe it was wrong, that someone had made a mistake, misunderstood something else that was going on … yeah … no.

I started doing some poking around on my own to see what I’d find.  Jezebel has a post up about it today, but so do plenty of other folks.  Fox sent me over to Meta Writer, where there’s a list of books that have been stripped of their sales rank.  I was still able to find a couple of the books when I searched the author’s names, but if stripping sales rankings means sales of these books decreases, that’s an awful thing.  If, as just happened, I search for “homosexuality” and the first title that comes up is A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality¹I have to believe there’s something really, truly ugly going on.

Smart Bitches has an post up that offers up a way to let Amazon know that you’re not pleased with this display of homophobia. Check out their Amazon Rank post to read all about it. And, too, you can sign a petition telling Amazon what you think about this new policy.

I’d be offended by this no matter what.  But when Centerfold Models Exposed, Playboy: the Complete Centerfolds, and Super Beauties: Naked and Natural all show up in my Amazon searches quite easily, I am more offended.  And when discovery of this policy comes in the wake of my shock- and-awe responses to the Iowa Supreme Court and the Vermont legislature … I’m way more offended.

I’m not worried about James Baldwin and Annie Proulx and Radclyff Hall.  Readers will find them.  Their names are big enough, their works are well enough known, professors will still assign them.  But what about the writers who don’t have names as big as Baldwin, who haven’t had blockbuster movies made from their short stories, who aren’t on course syllabi around the country?  This kind of underhanded crap will hurt those people, will deny them sales that have a direct and immediate effect on their ability to sustain their writing careers.

Most of all, this policy will hurt people searching for books that mirror their lives.  Seeing characters who look like us, who love like us, who have the same kinds of ups and downs we do helps us understand ourselves better, make meaning out of confusion, find a way to laugh at tough situations, see that we aren’t the only ones experiencing the things we experience.  That pull to see ourselves reflected in the books we read is a strong one.  What’s next?  Will I search for “African-American woman” and find in the top ten search results books about how to bleach my skin and straighten my hair and alter my lips and nose so that I can ‘fix’ my blackness?


¹  Also included in the top ten search results for homosexuality:

  • Can Homosexuality Be Healed
  • You Don’t Have to Be Gay: Hope and Freedom for Males Struggling with Homosexuality or for Those Who Know Someone Who Is

10 thoughts on “Oh, see, I thought Iowa and Vermont meant the times they were a-changin’ … Update

  1. Thanks, Captain! I just checked the link and it seems to be working again. Maybe it’s been overloaded with signers? Last night when I signed there were only a few thousand people. Today there are almost 13,000.


  2. Yikes; I was on the verge of ordering a book of poems and a garlic press from Amazon. I will find other sources for those items, and will let them know why I won’t be buying from them. That’s outrageous.


  3. Hmm, looks like maybe this was a more general glitch and POSSIBLY not aimed at LGBT folks–possibly. I guess I should have dug into it a tad more before sending a grumpy note. (The preceding sentence is pretty much what should go on my gravestone, or be engraved on my urn, if it will all fit.)


    1. I’m not sure I can buy the glitch claim. Author Mark Probst did, after all, get an email from Amazon happily explaining that he was delisted intentionally. This sounds more like trying to cover up something they thought no one would notice. The Jezebel post gives a lot of possible explanations for what happened. For me, it all points to Amazon, at the very least, doing a really bad job of monitoring its own processes. I think your grumpy note is still appropriate. Amazon needs to know that its customers pay attention to stuff, that we don’t just shop blindly.


  4. Huh; the plot certainly does thicken. All of this is a great example of the kind of news gathering that bloggers potentially excel at–all that detailed digging into topics mainstream journalists might ignore. It also hints at a potential downside: we bloggers aren’t necessarily trained in how to check facts and otherwise avoid erroneous conclusions that, in the Internet age, can brew into a firestorm before one knows it and maybe even damage a person or business who turns out not to deserve it. (I’m speaking generally here, not necessarily about the current case.) My own local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, is in dire financial straits and is now linking straight to articles in other publications and also relying much more on blog posts, which leads me to the third glaring feature of getting news from the blogosphere: having to read lots of writing by people who don’t know when to use an apostrophe or not. Just today I was reading a post about the type of dog the “Obama’s” are going to adopt. I also recently read something like, “Its an exciting day! My first book will be available in bookstores today! It’s title is …” I wanted to cry.


  5. Sorry! I have comment-orhea today. Just wanted to clarify that of course I’m not obligated to read ungrammatical blogs (though sometimes I do). What is a bit disappointing is to go to the S.F. Chronicle’s online entity and there read stuff that doesn’t adhere to the basic rules of grammar. But, you know, I should just get over the whole grammar thing, because the times are just a-changing in that regard. As for Amazon, the more I read, the more it does seem they were distinctly out of line. (Now I promise not to comment for a week!)


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